Harold Meyerson

Richie Rich Aces the SAT

(Flickr/sacmclubs)
(Flickr/sacmclubs) A California high schooler takes the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). The College Board released its data on 2012 SAT scores on Monday, and beneath the headlines (which tallied how much SAT scores have slipped as more and more students take the test) was a revealing picture of the influence of students’ household income on their performance. The influence couldn’t be more decisive. The board measured household income in increments of $20,000—starting with students from households making $0 to $20,000 annually, then $20,000 to $40,000, all the way up to $160,000—then an increment of $40,000 ($160,000 to $200,000) and then a final category of more than $200,000. And SAT scores rose considerably at every step in the income scale. The poorest students, from households making less than $20,000 had a mean combined score of 1322 out of 2400; the next highest, 1397; then 1458, then 1497—all the way to a score of 1722 for students from households making more than $200,000...

The Amalgamated Pole Vaulters

(Flickr/TexasEagle)
A common refrain among union critics is that Americans no longer need unions—that unions were well and good for the exploited sweatshop workers of a century ago, but today’s empowered Americans need no such crutch. With workers’ incomes falling, and with the United States leading all industrial nations in the percentage of its workers in low-wage jobs, it’s increasingly clear that today’s we need unions for many of the same reasons that the workers of 1912 did: They’re exploited and underpaid. But if it’s only the nation’s most exploited workers who need to band together, why have America’s most talented employees formed unions of their own? Actors, writers, directors, and cinematographers all have unions. Baseball, football, and basketball players have unions. And now, ESPN.com reports , America’s track and field athletes want a union of their own as well. The immediate grievance that has spurred the athletes to action is Rule 40 of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which...

Mitt "Ayn Rand" Romney

Jamelle has already blogged about the devastating video of Mitt Romney speaking to a fundraising event that Mother Jones’s invaluable David Corn posted today . For those of you who may have missed it, here’s a partial text of what Mitt said in answer to a question about Obama voters: There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax. […] [M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. The only thing I’d add to Jamelle’s observations...

The Chicago Teachers’ Balancing Act

The paradox of unions is that they are at once armies and democracies—an oxymoronic construct that means they can seldom be as efficient as a top-down organization, or as expansively deliberative as, say, an idealized New England town meeting. There no ideal equipoise for a union—some, in which member participation has atrophied, can be essentially autocrat; some are more democratic (although democracy can impede growth if members insist on making the union devote resources to servicing their needs at the expense of organizing new members). The better unions try to balance their dual roles, and that looks like what the Chicago Teachers Union did Sunday night. No one can question the union’s capacity as a unified force. A change in state law required the union to get a 75 percent vote of the members to authorize a strike; the union got 90 percent. The week-long strike has not been shaken by any member dissent (at least, none has been reported). But on Sunday afternoon, the union also...

Chicago, Yes; Wisconsin, Huh?

As Chicago teachers union officials and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office were assuring Chicagoans that they had reached an agreement Friday afternoon on their contractual dispute, a judge a hundred miles north in Madison, WIsconsin struck down as unconstitutional that state’s hugely controversial law banning collective-bargaining rights for public employees. As I write, the text of the judge’s decision is not yet available, but since a ban on public-employee collective bargaining exists in many states, either the judge found new grounds to declare the law unconstitutional, or he declared it so for reasons not related to the constitutionality of such prohibitions. Nor is it yet clear whether his decision immediately reinstates the old law, or whether the effect of his decision is on hold until a higher court rules on what is sure to be the state’s appeal. ​Things are clearer down in Chi-town. There, the union has apparently agreed to a teacher-evaluation system in which student test...

Chicago Chooses Sides

Read the commentariat, or just subject yourself to the deafening consensus of enlightened opinion, and you have to believe that the beleaguered parents of Chicago’s schoolchildren are fuming at their city’s teachers' union, on strike now for a full week, and backing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s efforts to shape up the school district. Read the polls, or just the press accounts of parental support for the teachers, however, and you come away with an altogether different impression. A poll commissioned and released Thursday by Capitol Fax , an Illinois political report, of 1,344 registered Chicago voters found that fully 66 percent of parents with children in the public schools, and 55.5 percent of Chicagoans overall “approve the Chicago Teachers Union decision to go on strike.” Among African Americans, strike support stood at 63 percent; among Latinos, 65 percent. (Roughly 80 percent of Chicago’s schoolchildren are minority.) So, who disapproved of the strike? A majority (52 percent) of...

What Does Labor Need to Do to Survive?

In reporting my piece on labor’s future (" If Labor Dies, What's Next? "), I talked with a number of labor leaders and activists about their ideas for what unions need to do differently to survive—and make a difference—in today’s political economy. Here are my edited versions of four such discussions: Randi Weingarten Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers School districts are cutting professional development, increasing class size, cutting art and music education, and blaming teachers for not doing a good job at the same time that the poverty rates for children are increasing. We can complain about that, but we have to do something about that. We can’t just tell the districts and the legislators to do a better job. What we realized is we need to solve the problem. We have to focus on quality as well as fairness. Teachers need and want to share best practices with each other. They want to know how to make their lessons more robust. Education is going...

The Hungarian Solution

If the current wave of Republican criticism of Mitt Romney—due to his ideological uncertainty and the general incompetence of his campaign—keeps up, here’s a suggestion for a replacement candidate: Viktor Orban. The longtime leader of Hungary’s right-wing Fidesz Party and Hungary’s prime minister since 2010, Orban seems more committed to carrying out a Tea Party-esque agenda than Romney does. In his two years in office (he also served as prime minister a decade ago, but with a smaller majority and a less radical platform), Orban has slashed unemployment benefits, restricted collective bargaining, and reduced the nation’s retirement benefits. More than that, though, he’s gotten into trouble with the European Union (which at least nominally tries to hold member states to agreed-upon democratic norms) for his move to make the nation’s judiciary answerable to his office, and his purge of TV programs and newscasters who didn’t take the Fidesz line. Independent voices have largely vanished...

Rahm's Wedge

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
Put aside for a moment the particulars of the Chicago teachers’ strike and look at the broader picture. Rahm Emanuel is only one of a number of Democratic mayors and governors who are going after public-employee unions. In Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is also at loggerheads with the city’s teacher union. In San Jose, a Democratic mayor and city council scaled back the city employees’ pensions (and so did city voters when they were asked to ratify that decision). In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has tangled with a number of public-sector unions. The battle between management and labor seems to have spread to the very center of the Democratic Party. To some degree, this is a predictable response to the fiscal crisis states have faced during a severe recession—something’s got to give, and a number of chief executives have said it’s union benefits. Nonetheless, a number of the chief executives who’ve taken on unions are from jurisdictions with lots of rich folks on whom they’...

Koch: It's Only Crony Capitalism When I Don't Benefit

The right-wing press is chock-a-block with articles decrying the Obama administration’s romance with industrial policy. So reflexive is this ideology that some of them are even written by major beneficiaries of industrial policy, whose sense of entitlement must be so ingrained that they fail to notice this anomaly. Exhibit A appeared in Monday’s Wall Street Journal op-ed page, in which Charles Koch of Koch Brothers fame took out after crony capitalism and industrial policy. “We are on dangerous terrain when government picks winners and losers in the economy by subsidizing favored products and industries,” Koch wrote. He further complained that government is currently “subsidizing and mandating politically favored products in the energy sector,” singling out “solar, wind and biofuels” for examples of sectors currently being helped out. But not a word about oil and gas can be found in Koch’s litany of complaints. Could this be because Koch Industries, of which Koch is chairman and CEO,...

This is How Dems Do It

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) President Barack Obama and his family and Vice President Joe Biden and his family celebrate their nominations as the confetti falls at the conclusion of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. The third and final night of this week’s Democratic Convention may have lacked the fireworks we saw on the first two. Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton were eloquent in different ways, and weren’t matched by Barack Obama or Joe Biden on the convention’s closing night. That’s not to say that the closing night wasn’t effective, however. By focusing above all on two of Obama’s decisions—to save General Motors and Chrysler and to send in the Seals to take out Osama bin Laden—Obama and Biden emphasized the two most politically potent contrasts, especially on the latter point, they could draw with Mitt Romney and used those contrasts to make their most telling attacks on Romney yet. They also did more than that: They set up the election as a choice...

Clinton Resurrects the Party’s Universalism

(AP Photo/Robert Ray)
(AP Photo/Robert Ray) Former President Bill Clinton addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. A funny thing happened to Bill Clinton on the way to the White House in 1992. He had planned to run as a New Democrat, the champion of the post-industrial economy, a Southern Gary Hart, against the more traditional liberal Mario Cuomo, the Democratic frontrunner as the primary season loomed. Then, in December 1991, Cuomo stunned the political word and scrambled Clinton’s calculations by announcing he wouldn’t run. Clinton’s leading primary opponent became former Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas, who was running not just as the more upscale, new economy candidate but on a platform—Simpson-Bowles avant la lettre —of scaling back Medicare and Social Security in the cause of fiscal prudence. So Clinton put on a new identity, one in which he was existentially more comfortable: He became the common man’s tribune, a neo-lunch-bucket populist. He dispatched Tsongas...

A Declaration of Interdependence

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) Michelle Obama addresses the 196th Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. The message of the first night of the Democratic Convention was “We built it together.” Speaker after speaker took aim at the Republican Party’s Randian, libertarian vision, at the ideology that Britain’s Margaret Thatcher succinctly expressed when she said, “There is no such thing as society.” There is, too, replied the Democrats. There is temporal society—the intergenerational links, the investment in education that pays off not in your own success but, as San Antonio Julian Castro pointed out, in your children’s. There is the society of laws, where Democrats (in general) and Barack Obama (in particular) have fought for equality in matters of sexual orientation. There is the economic society—now more unequal than it’s been in 80 years—where Obama, in his wife’s words, ensured that paying your medical bill won’t mean you go broke. The first evening on the...

Nine and a Half Conventions

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo) Then-Senator John F. Kennedy stands in the spotlight on the rostrum of the Los Angeles Sports Arena and promises Democratic convention delegates, who nominated him as their presidential candidate on July 14, 1960, that "we will win" in November. My first Democratic National Convention came when I was ten. My parents took me along to the new Los Angeles Sports Arena for the second night of the 1960 gathering that nominated Jack Kennedy. The tickets came courtesy of my father’s employers, who ran a mega-tract-home construction company. They may well have been to the right of the Democratic Party; my parents were still stubbornly to its left—members of the all-but-extinct Socialist Party—but no matter. A national political convention didn’t come around every week, and besides, my parents increasingly considered themselves close to the liberal reformers who dominated California’s Democratic Party. As chance would have it, the second night of that Democratic Convention provided...

Chasing Swingers, Not Specifics

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan are on stage with their wives Ann Romney and Janna Ryan at the end of the Republican National Convention This year’s Republican Convention wins the prize for most conflicted message. Half the time, the convention was devoted to assuring those elusive swing voters—who needed assurance that Republicans really aren’t all angry old white men who hate women and minorities and would close your plant in a blink of the eye if they could make a nickel on the deal—that Republicans in general and Mitt Romney in particular were inclusive, caring, nurturing patriots. The other half of the time, it was devoted to bashing President Barack Obama for his anti-American agenda, an agenda the Republican base has fabricated out of its own paranoia. Because it is effectively all white, the GOP is compelled to send out a revolving door of minority pols and businessmen to affirm the party’s...

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